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Pentatonix Tears Up the Charts

Pentatonix fleetingly bumped Taylor Swift from atop iTunes with the album ‘That’s Christmas to Me.’ The a cappella group’s unlikely rise to stardom highlights the influence of YouTube as well as the power of a distinctive sound

Updated Dec. 11, 2014 3:19 p.m. ET
You rarely hear them on the radio. Most fans can’t spell, let alone pronounce, their name. They don’t play gigs on Friday nights and their manager says they sometimes are mistaken for a death-metal group by fans who come across the cover art for some of their music collections. Instead of portraying the group’s five members, the covers feature five glowing bars and the mysterious letters: “PTX.”

Yet Pentatonix, a young a cappella group hailing mostly from Texas, may be one of the few acts to sell a million copies of a 2014 album this year, selling more than 615,000 copies of “That’s Christmas to Me” since last month, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Several weeks ago the album bumped Taylor Swift’s “1989” from the No. 1 spot at Apple Inc. ’s iTunes Store, though Ms. Swift has since regained the top position.

The group’s unlikely rise to stardom—which caught most of the music industry by surprise—highlights not only the influence of YouTube but also the power of a distinctive sound. The latter is particularly valuable in a world where pop stars generate most of their income from hit singles and are wary of taking the musical risks they once could on full-length albums.